Sunday, January 1, 2012

Steps to Photo Mastery in 2012

This first day of 2012 was perfect. This was a morning of fewer opportunities but it was wonderful to be out shooting and just walking around. Old photographers, like old hunters, appreciate just being out there. There is no bad day with the camera, especially in the wild. 

This morning I hiked a short upper wilderness stretch of the Buffalo National River, known as the Hailstone. Yesterday I got pictures of otter in a nearby farm pond. Otter often move every day and today was no different. I bet on a couple of upstream pools that might hold them today but that turned out to be wrong. I thought it was no better than a 30% shot that I would see them -- it was OK. 

Long Scale, Two Colors, Shapes & Lines
Winter Photography is a Time to Learn
I did get a decent landscape, but like most winter river landscapes it is austere. I consider winter the best time to work on your skills as a photographer. I love the simplicity. 

I stalk through the ice, detritus and steel blue water shopping patterns and long tonal scales. What were bright colors are now shades of brown. This is a season that favors black and white, and minimalists like me. 

I practice one fundamental exercise with many variations. I challenge myself to find photos where there seem to be none. Generally I will do this with one lens. There is no distraction from the task at hand. My goal and focus is to find photos where there seem to be none

At its base, a photo is a symphony of colors, lines, shapes and tonal values organized in a pleasing pattern. You task is to recognize what is plainly in front of you, then make choices about what to include, and what to throw away. This includes choosing with your heart. It is a simple idea, but tough to pull off. 

Becoming more thoughtful about the creative process of deconstruction and reconstruction will be one key to your success. There is such a thing as talent, but there is nothing here that cannot be taught and improve anyone's skills. Even the talented, perhaps especially the talented, need to understand what they do naturally through deconstruction if they are to reach the next level

The point of practice some ways is to make the intuitive deliberate then more deeply intuitive, in a deepening cycle of learning. Much as athletes do drills regardless of skill level, photographers must do their drills regardless of skill level. Pablo Casals, the great cellist said that one day without practice and he would notice it, two days without practice and his audience would notice it. 

The point is this, the path to mastery has no final destination. We all travel this path. If we work at our craft, we continue down the mastery path closer to the destination that will never be reached. If we do our exercises, we will move down that path more quickly. The satisfaction comes in the learning process, and experiencing days like today. Surely one thing learned along the path to mastery is that accepting what nature gives us is blessing enough. 

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